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Air pollution

posted Apr 7, 2015, 7:42 PM by Thomas Stern
Air pollution is frequently the topic of political debate.  The democratic party uses it to justify increasing regulatory requirements for industry citing global warming as the most serious consequence. Republicans  oppose stricter standards because it makes it harder for US companies to compete globally.  Both sides have significant arguments.  I see flaws in both sides as well.  When I was in elementary and middle schools I learned about periods when the earth was cold referred to as ice ages.  The ice ages were separated by periods with warmer temperature.  I was never taught that temperatures on earth stayed constant.   My conclusion is that global warming and cooling is the norm - not the exception. Is it happening faster than it did?  Well I was not around 3 million years ago - during the last ice age.  I am not aware there are daily temperature logs from that time either.  There are ways to deal with environmentally unfriendly countries from sending cheaper goods into the US to undercut US companies.  Again these are political arguments which I do not like to waste time on.  I was also taught the best form of government is a benevolent monarchy - in which case there would not be political argument. That sounds attractive...

My personal opinion is that air pollution is the most under-appreciated healthcare problem in the world.  In the past 20 years hundreds of articles have been published showing the adverse health effects of air pollution and the positive effects of improving health quality.  Everyone should read the Harvard 6 cities study.  It showed significant health effects of fine particulate matter air pollution at levels one tenth of that in some Chinese cities.  It also showed that when the air quality improved - the adverse health effects improved. Air pollution has been linked to cardiovascular events and cancer - the 2 biggest killers in the US.

If that data is not enough for you to realize the importance of clean air a recent New England Journal article should.  This recent article demonstrated that air pollution caused decreases in the rate of development of lung function in children - and when the pollution improved - children's lungs developed at a more rapid pace.  These studies were done at a level of air pollution that is seen in most of China's provinces. Beijing currently has a level of air pollution 5 times this high.

Dirty water is a public health topic that gets a lot of attention.  Every year close to millions of people globally die due to polluted water.  The thought of exposing millions of people to a polluted water supply and not taking drastic measures to correct it would be considered close to criminal.  If global air pollution continues unabated in the next 100 years air pollution will receive similar notoriety and attention.